It’s funny how one thing can come to represent something completely unrelated. How something very simple can come to be symbolic of something very complex. For me it’s flowers. Simple. Beautiful. For me they’ve come to represent independence, truth, freedom from gaslighting. It was a long road, a winding path, but a moment of clarity brought things full circle in such simplicity.
How can flowers come to represent all of those things? It’s a simple thing, really. I like flowers. I never really thought about it. I’ve never been high-maintenance. I have never needed a boy to bring me flowers to feel that he cared. I didn’t really need anything other than his attention. And flowers weren’t a symbol of anything for me for a very very long time.
But when I was newly married, living in a foreign country where a weekly market had fresh cut flowers, I would walk the two blocks over every week and get fresh flowers for my desk. For nearly two years I worked that job, and I would walk over and buy myself flowers every week.
In the meantime, I was adjusting to a new marriage, a new country and a new way of life. There were a lot of adjustments happening in those years—some small and some large. There were some very bad things and some good things.
Gaslighting is a slow, subtle process
In hindsight, I think there were so many adjustments happening all at once that I didn’t see some things. Things that if they happened now to my older, wiser self, I would see as warning signs. Things I would see as not right. But I was young, and I didn’t have the wisdom or experience to see. Which is normal. And I think when you are in the middle of a storm like none you have ever experienced, it’s tough to differentiate between a storm and normal winds for where you are. It’s not until the storm dies down that you can feel what the regular wind feels like against your skin.
But there comes a time when you realize that there is always a storm, there is always something, and you can see it for what it is: normal. And if normal is a storm, that is not good.
It’s not normal
I spent years making excuses, to myself, to family, to friends, to people around us. I spent years explaining behavior, attitudes, and trying to make things right, to make things work. But it was always my fault. I was always to blame.
It would be years before I would understand what I was dealing with, what I was up against, but by then it would be too late. And by then, the habits were ingrained. Making things work, working around, making excuses.
Then came the day it was so clear just how ridiculously out of whack things had become. That was the day that it was glaringly obvious that I was dealing with gaslighting.
He told me I didn’t like flowers.
He said it as a simple statement of fact falling from his lips. The fact that it was a preposterous lie was irrelevant. I said “No, I like flowers.” He told me I was wrong. Seriously. He told me I was wrong—that I didn’t like flowers.
Gaslighting: It’s a funny thing to feel like you might be crazy.
But when it happens enough, you start to question your sanity. You start to question your own mind. You start to feel like you might be crazy. Maybe you didn’t say what you thought you did. And you start to feel like you don’t remember things correctly.
But that is the goal of the person gaslighting another.
The person doing the gaslighting has an objective: to make you feel crazy, to make you question yourself, to make you fall in line with their line of thinking. To keep you in line.
But he picked the wrong topic this time. Because this time, I knew better.
If I didn’t like flowers, why did he send them to me? Granted, the only time he ever sent flowers was for my birthday or our anniversary if he was away, which he often was. But if he knew (according to him) that I didn’t like flowers, why would he send them at all??
And, if I didn’t like flowers, why would I walk two blocks every week to buy them for myself?
Sometimes, the person selling the story forgets that it’s a story. Because it’s a story designed to make themselves feel better, look better, make what they’ve done okay.
I knew better.
I like flowers.
Now, I buy them for myself.
Sometimes I have two or three bouquets in the house at a time.
Seeing them brings a smile to my face. I walk by and stop for a quick smell.
They remind me that I’m not crazy.
I know who I am.
And I am free.
No more making excuses. Explaining someone else’s behavior. Trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense. Doubting myself. No more gaslighting.
No, I don’t need someone else to buy me flowers to feel loved.
I buy them for myself.
Because I know I am loved.
I love me.
And I love me enough to say no more.
I’ll buy my own darned flowers.
Do you think you might be the victim of gaslighting? It can be difficult to detect, as it takes a master manipulator to pull it off. For more about gaslighting and its warning signs, check out this article in Psychology Today.